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Categorized | Obituary

JEAN ANDERSON

On the 4th of July, Jean Anderson (83) of Pierson, Michigan passed away around dinner time at home surrounded by loved ones–fireworks followed soon after. Although Jean was a teacher and math major in college, it is interesting that so many things about her life are incalculable–the hands of cards played, cookies baked, pancakes flipped, papers graded, questions asked, and tears shed on our behalf. Jean was born in 1938 toward the end of the Great Depression. She grew up on Alpine Avenue in a farmhouse just south of 3 mile in Walker; she remembers when Alpine was a dirt road. She was the big sister; the oldest of five children of Ted and Babe Lankamp–Jean, Sara, Jerri, Kathy, and Gerrit. Being the oldest child she had the benefit of spending the most time with her aunts, uncles, and grandparents, whom she adored. Being the big sister, she also had the occasional responsibility of taking care of her younger siblings. Difficult to count are the number of diapers she changed. Judging by her raised eyebrow when asked recently, it was quite a few. As they got older, the youngest siblings also had the privilege of being driven to school in their big sister’s blue impala convertible–a car Jean bought proudly when she got her first teaching job. A much more exciting car than the numerous minivans Jean had more recently. Jean graduated from Grand Rapids Union High School in 1956. Having been active in her Wesleyan Methodist church as a youth, upon graduation she continued her education at Houghton College in New York (later she earned a MA from Western Michigan University). From Dutch immigrant stock, she was the first of her family to go to college. At Houghton she studied math education. Her son, the history teacher, may tell you that she became a math major, because the country was in the midst of the baby boom, cold war, and space race. The Soviets had recently tested their atomic bombs and launched Sputnik. There was a push to improve math and science education across the nation in the 1950s and 60s, and Jean answered the call. Although the timeline may work, the truth may be that Jean was simply good at math and wanted to teach from an early age. Jean loved playing games, and math is important when you are always the designated scorekeeper like Jean was. Incalculable are the number of hours she enjoyed playing games of all sorts with her friends and family. She remembered playing cards with her grandparents when she was very young and she was playing cards with her own grandchildren till the very end. She was a member of several bridge groups through the years often playing several times a week. Family-time at the lake, on ski trips, or even a cruise ship inevitably ended in cards and games into the early morning hours. Jean won more than her fair share, and never took it easy on her grandchildren. And she didn’t need to keep score in order to win, but she wasn’t above grandmotherly guilt to get an advantage. From childhood Jean had wanted to become a teacher. After graduating Jean got her first teaching job in the Wyoming school district in 1960. She taught there until 1968 when she married her husband Tom, a lawyer in Cedar Springs. That year she began teaching in Cedar Springs where she taught elementary, mostly 4th grade at Hilltop Elementary until 2001. Cedar Springs, although they didn’t live there, was the community to which she and Tom were most connected. Jean taught and Tom practiced law in the same office on main street for over 50 years. For years they were fixtures at Red Flannel Days, the Rotary Chicken Barbecue and other community events. Through her 40 year teaching career it is incalculable the number of lives she touched directly as teacher, colleague, and mentor. Also incalculable are the number of papers graded over those 40 years. While she loved teaching and Cedar Springs, family was always Jean’s first priority. Many long evenings were spent grading papers at the kitchen table after her own children were fed and put to bed, but she was always mom first. She loved teaching, but she loved family most. After they were married, Tom and Jean bought the cottage on Little Whitefish Lake from her parents. Together they added on to that cottage, survived a house fire, and made that cottage a home. Life on the lake was good year round, but summer’s were especially nice, spent with extended family, swimming, boating, fishing, eating, and enjoying each other’s company. Jean was incredibly engaged in the lives of her children, Tom, Sara, and Amy. She was the primary shuttle service to and from all sorts of practices. She was president of boosters, and she never missed a concert or athletic contest. Also incalculable are the number of questions posed over the years. Like many mothers she was especially skilled at asking questions. Of her children, she’d asked questions like, what did you learn today? Who did you sit by on the bus? How was practice? Where are you going? Did you do your homework? When will you be home? The questioning skill, however, wasn’t limited to her own family. She was always genuinely interested in those around her and was especially adept at asking questions that would help her better understand your story. Inevitably, however, if you were in her home, the questions would turn to food–are you hungry? Would you like something to eat? You’d be foolish to refuse, Jean’s cooking was legendary. Food. Also incalculable: cookies baked, pancakes flipped, tomatoes canned, strawberries turned into jam, people fed. Jean’s love was best expressed through her food. Every meal, but especially breakfast at grandma’s is an affair: bacon, eggs, all sorts of fruit, juice, coffee, tea, and, of course, pancakes. Pancakes are always available upon request at Jean’s house. While she sometimes made pancakes from scratch, as she made most things, years of experience confirmed that the Hungry Jack Buttermilk pancake mix that requires oil, milk, and eggs is simply the best. (Of late this pancake mix is hard to find in stores. Hungry Jack did not sponsor this obituary although offers would be considered–also difficult to calculate, the thousands of dollars spent on pancakes over the years.) You can cook your pancakes to your preference, but Jean preferred hers slightly thinner than the directions recommended and just slightly undercooked or gooey. Jean’s cookies are also amazing. If you are lucky enough to have had them, you will likely agree. For the past 20+ years Tom and Jean have been treating their children and grandchildren to annual ski trips in northern Michigan. While Tom had to give up skiing only a few years ago, Jean gave it up many years ago to focus on feeding the family. As soon as skiers hit the hill, Jean started baking cookies, dough for which she had prepared well in advance. She also put the soup on the stove; she usually brings 4-5 different kinds of soup also prepared in advance. (Her canned tomatoes make the best chili, soup, and pasta sauce.) If you were with Jean, she made sure you were well fed and loved. Feel free to try your hand at a few of our family’s favorite recipes. Most things she cooked didn’t have a recipe, but here are a few of our family favorites: https://bit.ly/jeanscooking. It is unlikely you will be able to replicate her cooking exactly; experience taught Jean well. She would add and reduce ingredients as taste and appearance dictated. If in doubt, err on the side of a bit more sugar or a few more berries; Jean would. Jean was also a crier. She cried for all of those she loved regardless of whether you were leaving home or coming home. They were tears of joy mixed with worry; pride with temporary sadness. Cry if it helps but there is no need, she cried enough tears for all of us over the years. And if you do cry, make sure they are tears for the joy of a life well lived and pure of heart. Jean’s influence on our lives is indelible and beyond calculation. We have all been shaped by her forgiveness, generosity, and gentle kindness. We will miss her dearly and are thankful to have had her so long in our lives. We loved her dearly and are proud to call her friend, aunt, sister, wife, mother, grandmother. Jean is survived by her many bridge partners; her sisters, Geraldine and Sara, her grandchildren, Chase, Ian, Aiden, Chloe, Jake, and Tommy; her children: Amy (Jason), Sara (Mike), and Tom (Holly); and her husband of 52 years, Tom. The family will greet friends Saturday, July 10 from 1:30 p.m. until time of service at 3:00 p.m. at the Bliss-Witters & Pike Funeral Home, Cedar Springs. Pastor Michelle Vallier officiating. Interment Pierson Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please donate to your local school booster organization, volunteer your time, or buy your kids and grandkids more books than you can carry at a used book sale supporting your local library.

Arrangements by Bliss-Witters & Pike Funeral Home, Cedar Springs

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